The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Baton Rouge’s LINE4LINE program is helping local boys experience this feeling of a fresh cut and so much more. LINE4LINE is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide boys access to books, reading and relatable mentors by offering them free haircuts at the local barbershop. The program began four years ago at O’Neil’s Barber & Beauty Salon at 449 North Acadian Thruway when current Episcopal parent Lucy Perera met O’Neil Curtis, owner of the barbershop. Lucy had heard about barbers across the country offering free haircuts in exchange for reading books and she wanted to replicate the program here. Over the past four years, the idea has grown to include a year-round reading program, a free library, a book club and weekend activities supported by a variety of volunteers.
Every first Monday of the month, the barbershop is open from 4 pm to 7 pm and students receive free haircuts from professional barbers. As the scissors snip, the boys read aloud to the barbers, who are volunteering their time and talent on their day off. “Sometimes the books are so fascinating that the haircut is done and they continue reading to the barber,” says Perera. Perera has also partnered with the organization, Conscious Kid, to develop meaningful book lists and recommendations. Each month there is a theme in the barbershop, ranging from African American music and women’s history to bullying and graphic novels. In addition to the cuts and the stories, a longtime LINE4LINE volunteer supplies healthy food and snacks. LINE4LINE barbers and volunteers have even taken the program into several local public schools.
This school year, Episcopal students have been involved with LINE4LINE in numerous ways. Students spent a Saturday at the shop, painting and preparing the activity rooms where children now read books and participate in projects together. Episcopal students have also served as reading mentors for the children on first Mondays. In a big show of support during Louisiana Literacy Week, the entire Episcopal community donated books for the LINE4LINE library and book exchange. “Our involvement with LINE4LINE this year has been rewarding for both students and faculty,” says Episcopal Chaplain Father Skully Knight. “We are pleased to have been involved with such a meaningful project.”
Lucy and her children, junior Maia and freshman Skyler, moved to Baton Rouge from New Mexico. While in New Mexico, Lucy organized a neighborhood arts program for young people. She brought that same enthusiasm for sharing the arts with her when she relocated to Baton Rouge to work for the LSU Museum of Art, which had a similar program. In addition to art projects, museum volunteers also set up a cozy place for participating children to read. Lucy says the children thoroughly enjoyed the art projects, but the excitement about the opportunity to read a book was simply amazing. After a sizable donation of books was given to support the program, Lucy began to pursue the idea of providing free haircuts to children in exchange for reading a story. Once Lucy met O’Neil Curtis, the LINE4LINE dream became a reality.
“Thank you for letting us look at these books.”
In the few years since the effort began, Lucy says the impact has been tremendous. To check out a book from the shop’s library, children are asked to stamp a check-out card and write a note. Notes such as the one above are frequent as the children are thrilled to have a book. Lucy says having a relatable, male role model also makes reading “cool.” In the barbershop, the boys are confident and supported, which allows them to read aloud without fear of making a mistake. Lucy says because of their time at O’Neil’s some of the boys are no longer struggling in school. For those students who are struggling, LINE4LINE also has volunteer teachers available to help or to even assist parents with ways to help their child develop their reading skills.
The simplicity of the LINE4LINE program is a major strength. The program provides haircuts, mentorship, reading, support and a sense of community. Lucy’s own children even volunteer at the shop and she hopes the experience teaches them the power of taking action. “It doesn’t take much for an individual to do something that can impact others. If you have an idea there are ways to make things happen,” she says. This message is clearly something Maia took to heart as she recently partnered with her fellow students to raise awareness and support for Central American artists. You can read more from Maia here.
By making the LINE4LINE program a reality, Perera and Curtis are making Baton Rouge a better place. “I feel really lucky to be involved with this,” says Lucy, who remembers teachers and people who had a positive impact on her own life. She hopes that when the boys from LINE4LINE grow up they remember going to the barbershop, reading a book and being a part of a community that cares.
Want to get involved with LINE4LINE?
Here are few ways to be a part of the program.